One thing I've noticed in my 15+ years of helping people figure out what they want to be when they grow up is how uncomfortable we are with questions. Despite the fact that the questions we ask inevitably shape the results and opportunities we find, we are so focused on answers, we don't pay attention to asking the right questions. Nor do we pay attention to how our questions can help us frame new opportunities.
I'm a big believer in managing your career with questions. I think it is by grappling with our questions that we come to true insight and clarity about our journey. But we need to get better at asking powerful questions and make questioning a regular career habit.
What is a Powerful Question?
The Art of Powerful Questions says that a powerful question:
- Generates curiosity in the listener.
- Stimulates reflective conversation.
- Is thought-provoking.
- Surfaces underlying assumptions.
- Invites creativity and new possibilities.
- Generates energy and forward movement.
- Channels attention and focuses inquiry.
- Touches a deep meaning
- Evokes more questions.
For me, I know when I've hit on the "right" question when I feel an urgency to explore and answer it OR when I feel huge resistance about dealing with it. Often that resistance is a sign that I REALLY need to deal with that particular question!
If the question feels "dead"--if I get a "been there, done that" response to the question, then I know I haven't found a question that's really powerful for me. I need to keep exploring and tinkering until I get it right.
Some Resources for Exploring Questions and Your Career
If you're looking for some help in getting started with using questions for career management and exploration, check out some of these resources:
- The Art of Powerful Questions--written for the World Cafe community, this is an excellent guide to developing your own powerful questions. Hint: ask more "why," "how" and "what" questions.
- The Question Log--keep track of your questions and look for trends and themes.
- The Power of the Positive Question--use positive questions to create more of what you want.
- Working with the Questions--use different types of questions to explore various aspects of your career.
- Questions to Compose Your Working Identity--explore your career as a form of identity.
- 12 Professional Development Questions--although developed for companies, these questions also apply to individuals.
- If You Do Not Work on Important Questions, You Will Not Do Important Work--break free from the tyranny of the small question.
- The Reflective Practice Series--a whole host of questions and ideas for creatively exploring questions for learning and professional development.
Another techniqe to try is what Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregerson, in their recent Harvard Business Review article Find a Job Using Disruptive Innovation , call "questionstorming":
Take four minutes a day to write down nothing but questions about your job search. Doing this consistently for thirty days will take you down new paths as your questions change and your patterns of action follow. For example, an executive in his mid-thirties and in a career transition began by asking "How can I make a bucket of money?" Over time, that question changed to "What will make me happy for the long term?" Which then changed to "How do I create something for the long term?" As a result, he's moved into different kinds of job interviews, landing one with a big multinational company that otherwise would never have happened had he not changed his question.
Questionstorming can be combined with the Question Log to give you some really powerful insights.
Finally, many of the people I work with have had great success in using visuals to explore their career questions. It's the idea behind my Career Clarity Image sessions, where you can work with up 3 big questions--which usually leads to more and deeper questions. And ultimately some clarity.
Questioning is a Fundamental Career Management Skill
I'm increasingly finding that developing your skills in the art of the question is one of the best investments in your career you can make. Not only do powerful questions help you gain clarity about your own career, the ability to ask and use powerful questions in other facets of your professional life is a cornerstone for success. Focusing on answers is easy in the age of Google. It's the questions that really make the difference.